"Boris, I don't want to hurt you, but with a missile it would only take a minute." Not the words of a Bond villain but of Vladimir Putin, on the telephone to Boris Johnson, on the eve of the invasion of Ukraine. It was one of many insider moments revealed in Putin vs the West (BBC Two), billed as the story of how Putin wrongfooted the West in the decade leading up to the war.
Award-winning film-maker Norma Percy specialises in heavyweight political documentaries featuring the people who were in the room when the big decisions were made, from world leaders to special advisers. Unsurprisingly, Volodymyr Zelensky appeared but Putin did not. On the British side of things, David Cameron, Theresa May and Johnson all appeared. The series serves as a reminder that Johnson can be a serious politician when not mugging for the cameras or deploying his schoolboy Latin, although he was the only talking head here to address the camera with, at one point, his hand stuffed into his trouser pocket.
News reports of the events covered here - a G20 summit, bilateral meetings, telephone conversations - gave us only brief, official lines. The documentary provided behind-the-scenes colour from those present, and it was fascinating. We got a real sense of the personalities involved. A British foreign policy adviser read out his note of what Putin had told Cameron in Downing Street: "I know you're a great country with a great history. You all think I'm not democratic like you. I won't argue with you - I'm an ex-KGB man, I'm wicked and scary with claws and teeth, and you're all so well-bred and so well-educated. But you remember Abu Ghraib, David? Did you see those pictures? It was medieval, what happened there."
It was a speech that provided more insight into Putin's view of the West than any amount of commentary from political correspondents on the nightly news bulletins.
What makes Percy's documentaries so compelling is the mix of small details and large truths. The latter: the reluctance of some nations to back sanctions against Russia. Johnson spoke of the "magnetic pull of Putin and Russian influence, even within the EU". The former: Putin gazing admiringly at a portrait of Margaret Thatcher and murmuring: "Ah, truly she was an Iron Lady." And a French diplomat describing the sensation of staring into the "totally empty eyes" of a Putin portrait: "Suddenly you say, 'If I was in a cellar tied to a chair in front of him, I would really be terrified of this guy.'"
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This BBC documentary provides an eye-opening look into the mind of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his relationship with the West. It is an unnerving insight that gives an understanding of Putin's motivations and reveals the complexity of his dealings with other countries. The production quality is top-notch and the interviews are carefully chosen to help deepen the audience's understanding. This documentary is a must-watch for anyone interested in the current political climate and the power dynamics that shape it.REPLY